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A FRESH Point of View: Hatch Chiles 101

It’s tempting to dismiss Hatch chiles as just a bunch of hype. After all, they’re just chiles, right? If it weren’t for the Food Network and celebrity chefs, why would we even care about them? Well, because, if you like chiles, Hatch chiles are in a league of their own.

Available fresh only in a tiny window between early August and late September and grown just in a tiny piece of New Mexico, bright green Hatch chiles are deeply flavorful and roast beautifully. They are similar in looks and taste to the more common Anaheim chiles, available year-round, but Anaheims are milder and blander. Hatch chiles are meaty, spicy and earthier.

And, unlike many other vegetables, Hatch chiles do not lose much of their taste or texture when frozen. Buy them while they’re in season, roast them, pop them in freezer bags, and you can enjoy the famous flavor for months to come.

True Hatch chiles are grown only in and around Hatch, N.M., about 75 miles northwest of El Paso. Growers there say their chiles are better because growing conditions are just right: hot days, cool nights, a 4,000-foot elevation and rich volcanic soil. They’ve been popular regionally for generations. In late summer, you can barely drive a few miles in much of New Mexico without running across a roadside stand, selling roasted Hatch chiles.

More than 20 years ago, however, the chiles migrated to Texas markets, too. Then, thanks to food journalists and chefs, the rest of the U.S. discovered them. Now they’re sold all over, in heat levels ranging from mild to hot.

Hatch chiles need to be roasted to develop full flavor. And it’s easy. Place chiles on a cookie sheet in a single layer and broil for up to eight minutes, or until skin blisters and blackens, turning with tongs midway through. You can also roast them on the grill.

Hatch season is short and sweet. In a few more weeks, the green chiles will turn deep red. At that point, they can no longer be roasted, and they’ll be crushed into chile powder. So come pick up some fresh or roasted Hatch chiles soon, and see what all the hype is about!